Ask WPL: Urban and Joint MLIS/MSW Programs

The following request came in through our Ask WPL hotline:

I am trying to find information about MLIS programs that either offer courses that prepare students for urban librarianship (especially re: issues that impact people experiencing homelessness) and/or programs that offer a joint MLIS/MSW option. I have found very little so far and I wondering if you might be able to point me in the direction of a useful resource.

I put this question out to our Community of Practice and didn’t get much information back. It seems like Dominican University in Chicago is still the only program to offer an official joint MLIS/MSW. I’m opening up this Google Doc to anyone to add other programs or note programs with a particular social justice focus.

I responded to the person who asked: Regarding an urban focus, the MLIS degree is pretty flexible no matter where you go. I would recommend either looking at schools in major urban areas or finding an online program you can do while living in an urban area. The main thing I would emphasize in either case is getting work experience if you don’t already have it. No matter what courses you take, on-the-ground experience that shows you can work with people of diverse backgrounds is going to matter the most to future employers. The great thing about being a student is that it’s generally pretty easy to find people who are willing to help you out with internships, etc. All you need to do is find a library or system that is doing something you think is worthwhile, then reach out to them for a conversation. If for some reason that doesn’t work, you can always reach out to shelters, community centers, and schools (especially charter schools) to do literacy-related work because non-profits are often short staffed and grateful for any help they can get with those kinds of projects. I don’t know what your personal circumstances are, but I know it can be hard to find time for an internship when you also have to work. But I think the experience is so important that I would recommend taking longer to finish your degree, if needed, in order to be able to build your resume.

Resources for presentation in Zagreb

On Tuesday, July 11, 2017, we are presenting at the 20th Symposium of the International Consortium for Social Development in Zagreb, Croatia. These are links to resources we will mention or use during the presentation, but anyone is welcome to access them.

Library-social work at ALA: Another opportunity

One of the Ignite sessions at ALA will be on library-social work collaboration:

Social justice in libraries: social work roots and the progressive library mission
Saturday, June 24
11:30 AM – 12:00 PM (presentation will be 5 minutes within this time frame)
Location: McCormick Place, W183a

Although short, this will be a nice counterpart to our session since it seems to include some historical context that we do not.

In the future, if you know of any sessions anyone if offering on this topic, whether virtual or in person, state or national level, please consider this a venue for sharing out that information. (For example, a little bird told me there might have been a panel on this at the Texas library association conference…) Send anything our way, and we’re happy to post it here.

Panel at ALA on Whole Person Librarianship

Please join us at the ALA Annual Conference for a PLA-sponsored panel!

Whole Person Librarianship: Libraries and Social Workers in Collaboration
Sunday, June 25, 2017
McCormick Place, W178a

Since San Francisco Public Library became the first in the world to hire a full-time social worker in 2007, the interest in library-social work collaboration has grown exponentially. Urban, suburban, and rural libraries are creating scalable partnerships, from hosting interns to social service office hours to full-time hires. This panel of librarians and social service providers builds on a standing-room-only 2015 Conversation Starter on the same topic. We’ll provide practical examples of successful collaborations, and we’ll also discuss how these partnerships inspire new approaches to providing excellent library service. This session also ties into a book forthcoming from Libraries Unlimited.


Sara Zettervall
Librarian, Hennepin County Library
Founder, Whole Person Librarianship

Mary Nienow
Social Work PhD Candidate
University of Minnesota

Ashley Horn
Social Work Program Coordinator
Brooklyn Public Library

Heather Lowe
Adult Services Administrator
Dallas Public Library

Sarah Johnson
Visiting Assistant Professor, Reference and Instruction Librarian
Hunter College Libraries

Take our survey! on library-social work collaboration

Help us help you! Please complete this survey for our forthcoming book by Saturday, April 15, 2017:

Completing this survey will:

  • Tell us what librarians and social workers already know (or don’t know) about library-social work collaboration, so we can shape the content of the book to your needs.
  • Give you a frame for self-assessment: your answers can point you to where you can learn more.
  • Provide the opportunity for you to connect with us and share your library’s story in a case study (optional).

The book on Whole Person Librarianship will be published by Libraries Unlimited, likely in 2019.

Please email us if you have any questions. Thanks for your help!

Sara Zettervall
Mary Nienow

The fine print/official letter of invitation:

We are working on a study to better understand how librarians and social workers are working together in collaboration and partnership across the country. We are also looking to understand what information, knowledge and skills librarians and social workers need to establish effective partnerships. As a (librarian/social worker), you can provide us with much valuable information concerning this topic. We ask your help in completing the on-line Qualtrics survey.

The survey should take approximately 15-30 minutes to complete. Your participation in this research is completely voluntary. If you agree to participate, you may choose not to answer any given questions, and you may withdraw your consent and discontinue your participation at any time while taking the survey. If you determine you do not want your data used after submitting the survey we will be unable to honor your request because all returned surveys will be anonymous and there will be no way for us to disaggregate your data.

In this survey, there are no known risks beyond the inconvenience of time. We hope that you will choose to complete this survey. The results of this survey may be presented at international, national and state conferences as well as publications. Please feel free to share this link with other interested individuals or colleagues. If you have any questions about this project or the results please contact Mary Nienow or Sara Zettervall.

The distribution of this survey has been approved by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects.  If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment as a participant in this study, please contact Dr. Michael Axelrod, Chair, Institutional Review Board for Protection of Human Subjects, Schofield 17, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, WI, 54702-4004, (715) 836-2373.  Thank you for your time and cooperation.

Google Map of WPL Libraries

Here’s a Google Map with libraries that engage in library-social work collaboration at a variety of levels.

Who did I miss? Email me or comment below with the library name and what they’re doing (or, even better, a news link if it exists), and I’ll add to the map.

Whole Person Librarianship Webinar on WebJunction

Whole Person Librarianship: Fostering Empathy in Challenging Times

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
2:00-3:00pm Central Time
Register for free

Libraries are among the few public spaces that feel safe and welcoming to everyone in our current political landscape. As librarians striving to provide equitable service, we are challenged to meet the needs of patrons whose life experiences are markedly different from our own. To address these challenges, we have much to learn much from social workers, who are trained to approach their clients with empathy while maintaining professional boundaries. Whole Person Librarianship draws from social work concepts to help librarians become more confident in learning from, interacting with, and serving diverse patrons. Learn basic ideas to build your empathy skills, such as cultural humility and person-in-environment, to apply right away to your library practice, as well as where to find more in-depth information and support.

Presented by: Sara Zettervall, Founder, Whole Person Librarianship, and Adult Services Librarian, Hennepin County Library (MN); and Mary Nienow, PhD Candidate in Social Work, and beginning in August 2017, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (WI)

WPL: The Book! and more

First, the big news: Mary Nienow and I signed a contract late last year to write a book on Whole Person Librarianship for Libraries Unlimited. This is going to be a long and fruitful journey over the next two years – and we need your help to make it the best it can be.

Later this winter/spring, we’ll be reaching out with a survey and contribution opportunities for professionals who are involved in library-social service collaboration in all its varieties, from social work interns all the way up through library directors who forged a path to full-time social work hires.

Though we’re still in the planning stage, I wanted to announce this is coming because I will be at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta this month and would love to meet with anyone else who may be attending. Are you deep into this work? Do you just have some questions about it? Hit me up (sara -at-, and let’s find a time to chat. I’ve also reserved an hour in the Networking Uncommons on Sunday morning from 10:30-11:30 11:00am-noon where I’ll be available for drop-in conversations.

Stay tuned for many more exciting developments throughout 2017. Happy new year!

Social Work for Librarians: Cultural Humility

One of the foundational concepts of social work is “cultural humility.” Cultural humility builds on the belief that each person is an expert on his/her/their life and recognizes that our cultural experiences shape how we view the world. We each exist at the intersection of various cultural spheres, and we make assumptions about how the world works based on that perspective. Our responsibility as human servants committed to social justice, whether we are social workers or librarians, is to foster awareness in ourselves that our perspective isn’t the only one and trust others when they speak about their own lives.

I’ve had this concept in mind since before the election, when I encountered it in the second module of the introductory social work course on edX, but post-election it has become even more relevant to library work. Some aspects of cultural humility were familiar to me and may be to you as well, whether you’ve heard this particular term before or not. The call for allies to support individuals and groups rather than try to speak for them is an example of cultural humility. Shailene Woodley does a good job of explaining allyship in a video that was trending this weekend:

Changing the Narrative with Shailine Woodley from Longhouse Media on Vimeo.

Cultural humility goes a step beyond allyship, though, and asks us to actively and consistently remind ourselves that other perspectives are just as valid as our own. One useful comparison to make is cultural competence vs. cultural humility. Cultural competence calls for knowing about working with different categories of people. Cultural humility says that while knowledge can be helpful, the best way to know and understand another person is to maintain a state of openness, nonjudgment, and curiosity. This is much more difficult than it sounds. We all bring cultural blindspots with us as we move through the world, and for most of us the only way to reveal those blindspots is through conflict. For example, a lot of folks who move from the east coast U.S. (where I grew up) to Minnesota (where I now live) will at some point find out they’re perceived as brash, loud, and/or demanding by people who grew up here. There’s nothing wrong with being outgoing and opinionated, and there’s also nothing wrong with waiting until you know someone better to trust them with your thoughts, but bringing those behaviors together without thinking can lead to frustration and embarrassment. And this is just a small example–nothing compared to the larger misunderstandings that can easily happen when we assume that what’s comfortable to us will be comfortable to others as well. When we take on cultural humility, we are taking responsibility for treating those embarrassing moments of misunderstanding as learning experiences. We pledge to ourselves that we will swallow our pride and have empathy for the other person.

Sometimes, the stories we need to hear and the things we have to accept aren’t comfortable and will conflict with our own beliefs. One local example involves our large population of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis. Somali women born in Somalia have some of the highest rates of female circumcision (or female genital mutilation) in the world, upwards of 90%, and often with the most extensive cutting. Healthcare workers in Minneapolis, most of whom aren’t from the Somali culture, began to find that they had to cut women open and sew them back up again when they gave birth (so that they have a vaginal opening large enough for the baby to pass through; cutting is safer than letting scarred skin stretch and tear). While that’s customary to many Somali women, it was a surprise to the health care providers. Many of those health care providers object to FGM as a cultural practice, but they are tasked with supporting mothers for whom that decision had passed long ago. Eventually, many providers recognized that their role had to be preparing the mothers who were already cut for the reality of birth with their existing bodies, and also preparing their fellow providers to treat the Somali women’s bodies with respect. There are now some prenatal classes for Somali women that normalize the circumcised birth experience.

Most of our interactions in the library aren’t that challenging, but we all know that public service brings us into contact with the full spectrum of human experience and opinions. Cultural humility supports the understanding that libraries can’t ever be neutral and challenges us to think about whose perspective we represent in our collections and programs. Who aren’t we hearing? Who are we silencing?  Following the recent election in the U.S., librarians have stepped up to show how knowledge can help bridge the ever-widening bipartisan gap, as exemplified by Libraries Respond. In the spaces we create, we can let cultural humility be our guide. We can’t dictate a perspective, and we can’t be passive in the assumption that we’re neutral (a great cultural blindspot for librarians). What we can do is hold space for the voices of our patrons. Create conversations. Facilitate dialogue. Model with our own behavior what it means to be a flexible and empathetic human being. This is always challenging work, but it’s also our most important work.